The World Cup won't be just about what happens on the field. Jared Savage predicts the storylines likely to dominate during the course of the tournament.
A seat at sold-out Twickenham will be the hottest ticket in town come the crunch end of the tournament. Unlike the 2011 World Cup, when New Zealand banned ticket scalping, the British Government decided against making the resale of tickets illegal. Already, online auction sites are offering seats to the final for $30,000 each. Expect those eyewatering figures to rise further if England make the cut and don't underestimate the influence of the underworld.
Last time around, in little old Auckland, a group of professional charlatans posed as World Cup sponsors, picking up complimentary tickets from the reception desk at a swanky hotel to sell to desperate fans. Buyer beware -- criminal syndicates will undoubtedly be flogging convincing counterfeits.
Men behaving badly
Dwarf-tossing, royal hubbie snogging and All Blacks on sleeping pill and energy drink benders. And that was just Queenstown and Takapuna. Imagine what kind of trouble players could get up to in the bright lights of the UK. It wouldn't be a World Cup without some sort of blowout, although it's hard to see an All Black hogging the headlines like larrikins Cory Jane and Israel Dagg did last time round.
The pressure cooker of a home tournament might get to the England camp, although Mike Tindall is long gone and coach Stuart Lancaster has expelled the likes of Manu Tuilagi, a match winner, and Dylan Hartley in the hope of creating a new culture. Perhaps fellow Pool A combatants Australia are most at risk, with Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale the likely suspects if things go pearshaped.
Get ready for frequent headlines from Fleet St hacks, led by Kiwi-baiter-in-chief Stephen Jones, attacking the All Blacks. The 'haka is a circus act', 'McCaw is a cheat', the 'ABs are arrogant thugs' are hardy annuals from the British press who will roll them out again as soon as the team land at Heathrow.
In fact, the only story you won't see this time around is the 'ABs pilfer the Islands', simply because of the growing influence of Polynesian players wearing the English rose. Part of the tired routine is pantomime, as the writers are also quick to lavish genuine praise, and it's hard to know what the All Blacks make of it. One suspects they enjoy being cast as villains, or see it as a mark of respect, so it's doubtful the negative coverage creates a siege mentality. One thing is for certain -- the Twickenham crowd certainly buy into it. Richie McCaw's every act was jeered last time he played there, even while he was speaking after the final whistle.
Twitter storm in a tea-cup
Outspoken Samoan international Eliota Fuimoana-Sapolu was slapped with a $1000 fine after he tweeted that a referee was a "racist, biased prick" following a loss to South Africa the last World Cup. He followed up the inflammatory Twitter comment by saying the tournament was a "f***king joke". More recently, Quade Cooper lashed out online in an expletive-laden rant in response to criticism of his performance in Australia's 34-9 win over Australia. "Invite me to you're (sic) next team discussion then ask me how much I give a f*** about your team selection? Zero f***s given," the mercurial playmaker tweeted, apparently in response to negative Twitter feedback sparked by Herald columnist Chris Rattue.
The English rugby team have even been issued rules to follow during the tournament in order to not attract bad press attention, including "do not post when you are in a bad mood or immediately after a tough loss".
Despite the advice, it seems likely someone will speak their mind without pausing to think about it.
Simply being the partner of an elite athlete has become 'newsworthy' in recent years, as an insatiable public devour anything and everything about the lives of their sporting heroes. Some have encouraged this by signing up to women's mag deals, or cultivated celebrity status at social events, while others have actively shunned the limelight -- and the paycheque -- to keep their private lives to themselves.
Either way, expect to see speculative clickbait headlines like 'Home alone: How is Honor Carter coping with two young children?' or 'Has Richie put a ring on it?: Captain Fantastic plans for life after rugby' every time the WAGs are spotted at Harrods.